I recently finished watching all 3 seasons of Srugim (forty-five 35 minute episodes).
Srugim is an Israeli show. It’s subtitled in English.
It’s been described as a little like Friends, or Sex and the City, with something like Big Love mixed in. Those are pretty bad analogies — there really isn’t anything like Srugim at all.
You see, this is the story of five twenty-something women and men, mostly single, looking for love and commitment … who are also orthodox Jews. Not quite black hatters (although there are a few in the show), these are people who are trying to get by in the more secular world, while strictly observing their Sabbath, strictly keeping kosher, almost always wearing a head covering, never kissing outside of marriage, and even sleeping in separate beds at that time of the month.
From the first episode, you kinda’ know the characters. Three women and two men. Two of the women share an apartment. One is a hot mess. The third women has a successful career that intimidates everyone else. The two guys share an apartment too. One of them is recently divorced, but still sees his ex, and underachieves. The other is an internist who’s a jerk. Most of them are Ashkenazi, while one is definitely Sephardic (it’s hard to tell with another one whether the character or the actress playing her, or both, is Sephardic or Mizrahi).
What makes this show different to Americans is that we have this idea that Israel is a monolithic Jewish state. We don’t get that there are 3 types of Judaism, and that the most severe type is looked down upon by most Israelis as their crazy minority. We also don’t get that while Israel was mostly created out of nothing by Ashkenazi Jews, they’ve welcomed in Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews that still don’t feel completely accepted. And then what about the Palestinians? There aren’t many non-Orthodox Jews in the show, and there’s even fewer Palestinians, but they’re there, just trying to get along … just like in reality.
The story arcs are both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
- Yifat wants to find an orthodox man and get married. She tries hard. She always chooses the good or right thing to do. Sometimes that’s moving out of Jerusalem into a settlement. Sometimes it’s moving back. Sometimes it’s wondering why her husband would choose to do the same thing, only without her. And then she can’t get pregnant. Standard stuff with a twist.
- Nati is Yifat’s first boyfriend in the show. He is one of the most odious characters I’ve ever seen on television. A complete Asperger’s head case who just doesn’t get anyone. So he blows it with Yifat. Then with a woman who’s father wants to be his benefactor. Then with his roommates ex-girlfriend. Along the way one of his sweet patients dies suspiciously. Then he skips his mother’s funeral. And his father thinks he’s gay.
- Yifat’s roommate Hodaya is the hot mess. She’s the daughter of an orthodox rabbi, who’s in college doing biblical studies. Then she meets Avri: a non-practicing anthropologist. What will happen to her faith? Eventually Avri collides with her faith and loses. But then Hodaya goes secular, and moves out of Yifat’s place. Will Avri take her back? And does how much money he has make things better or worse? Hodaya struggles to find roles that suit her, and mostly fails. Eventually she ends up as the secular teacher at an orthodox girls high school, where she’s the cool teacher with a radio show on the side. Tattoos, not surprisingly, play a role.
- Amir is the tortured nice guy. Divorced … but not so much sometimes. Underachieving, and passive-aggressive about it. Sephardic, and a little miffed when he feels there is prejudice against him. He gets the girl he wants, but not the job he wants. Then he gets a job as a secretary, which he loves, but which his wife finds beneath him. He wants a baby, but he isn’t the one doing the hard work, and he doesn’t get that. He goes AWOL from the army. Later he disappears to a kibbutz in the Negev to tend goats.
- Reut is the overachiever. Orthodox, but with a good accounting job with an international firm. She meets a Torah scholar, who can’t conceive that she makes five times what he’d like to make some day. Then she dates the brother of Nati, who turns out to be gay. But not actually practicing. Just conflicted. He leaves her to suppress his desires as a black hatter. So she hooks up (but doesn’t) with a famous poet who’s a drunk.
Then there’s the long list of one season and single episode characters that fill out the show.
- Avri, the anthropologist, who’s too good to be true.
- The jovial Palestinian car mechanic that Amir goes to.
- Nati’s widower father, who meets a nice woman with a house in the south of France.
- Nati’s gay brother, who just can’t work it out, and then thinks his thoughts are sinful enough to cause health problems.
- His wife, who’s orthodox and must cover her hair, so she puts wigs over her real hair.
- Amir’s coven of older beret-wearing Tunisian friends, who try to recruit him into their Sephardic synagogue.
- The wandering hospital clown who Nati loves but can’t keep.
- Nati’s’ roommate, the drunken poet, and the love of his life, the embroideress Tehlia. She wants nothing to do with him, or does she?
- Reut’s cuter younger sister … who steals her boyfriend away, marries him, and then almost loses him in postpartum depression.
- Yifat’s brother, who’s only orthodox when he comes home to visit once a year. Even so, Yifat scares Hodaya away from him because she might goof him up.
- Hodaya’s boyfriend from the bar they work at, who hides it when he starts to return to the faith.
- Yifat’s employers, the rich fashion designers, making trending clothes for women … who are still orthodox.
The list goes on.
I don’t think it’s the best show ever. But it kept my attention to the end of 3 seasons. That’s something that Orange Is the New Black, or Sons of Anarchy or Deadwood failed to do.
Currently, seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Amazon. I watched season 3 on OVGuide with commercials, although you can see it commercial free if you subscribe to Hulu.
I don’t buy many DVDs any more. But I’d buy the box set of this one for two things. First is the music: a new Israeli pop song at the end of each episode. The other is for information on the actors. IMDB has made me a little nutty about keeping track of who actors are, and it’s driving me buggy that the credits in Srugim are not translated.